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Ina Garten uses this 1 ingredient for the best, brightest mashed potatoes

With one little twist, mashed potatoes go from standard to sublime.
For the first time ever this Thanksgiving, mashed potatoes will not intimidate me, thanks to Garten.
For the first time ever this Thanksgiving, mashed potatoes will not intimidate me, thanks to Garten.Courtesy Kavita Varma-White
/ Source: TODAY

Mashed potatoes are the one Thanksgiving side dish I’ve always struggled the most with. They're never as creamy or flavorful as I'd like them to be. I dislike making them at the last minute, but when I make them in advance, they become gummy.

Thanks to Ina Garten’s new “Modern Comfort Food” cookbook — and New York Times Food reporter Julia Moskin's recent profile of her — I’ve finally found a recipe that, with one little ingredient, vaults mashed potatoes to sublime status.

Lemon zest.

That’s it. That’s what makes Ina Garten’s dish — which she sophisticatedly calls “Puréed Potatoes with Lemon” — a game changer.

Garten’s recipe is all of four ingredients: Yukon Gold potatoes, whole milk, unsalted butter and lemon zest. The dish takes about an hour to make, but the result is worth the time.

With only four ingredients, these potatoes take about an hour to make. Courtesy Kavita Varma-White

In her profile of Garten, Moskin perfectly captures what makes this recipe — really, all of her recipes — so genius.

“Lemon isn’t a classic seasoning for mashed potatoes, but butter makes an excellent go-between," she writes. "This variation on French pommes purée is just the kind of dish that Ina Garten ... likes to perfect for home cooks. Cooking the potatoes in less water than usual and gradually mashing in bits of chilled butter are the details that make the recipe special."

Garten creates accessible little twists that make ordinary dishes sing. They are so simple and make so much sense, but somehow, we hadn't thought of them before.

Garten suggests seasoning with 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper. I used a bit more pepper to balance out the citrus flavor. Courtesy Kavita Varma-White

So, I had to try this one out to see if it would solve my mashed potato woes. I peeled the potatoes and simmered them in water until they were soft, about 15 minutes. (One key: Garten says to cover the potatoes with water by only an inch.)

After cooking and draining the potatoes, I set them aside and brought a cup of whole milk to a simmer. Then, I used a potato masher on the spuds until they achieved a velvety consistency.

The next step was crucial: I took two sticks (one cup) of unsalted butter, cut into half-inch cubes, from the fridge and, bit by bit, whisked them into the potatoes, which were on warm heat on the stove. The size of the butter cubes helps melt them evenly and uniformly.

I then added the warm milk to the potatoes — I only needed a half a cup to make it creamy (thank you, cup of butter) — plus salt and pepper. And finally, the pièce de résistance: one tablespoon of lemon zest, right into the puree.

The subtle pop of citrus is pleasantly unexpected, cutting right through the butter and milk.

For my pre-Thanksgiving tryout of Ina Garten's mashed potatoes, I paired them with baked salmon and roasted asparagus. Courtesy Kavita Varma-White

I made the mashed potatoes in advance, and when I served it later with baked salmon and roasted asparagus, they heated up nicely in the microwave, maintaining their creaminess — no gumminess in sight.

For the first time ever this Thanksgiving, mashed potatoes will not intimidate me, thanks to Garten. (Note to self: Don’t forget the lemons!)